Medical marijuana Archives - Florida Politics

State moves forward with disputed pot ID contract

After hearing a litany of complaints from lawmakers, state health officials are moving forward with a contested contract to process medical-marijuana patient identification cards.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip signed a contract with Jacksonville-based Veritec LLC, citing emergency powers “to avoid an immediate and serious danger to public health.”

Patients have complained about months-long delays in getting the cards, which are required before they can purchase marijuana products from state-sanctioned dispensaries after doctors order the treatment.

Lawmakers have publicly questioned state pot czar Christian Bax about the hold-ups, which he blamed on his office’s inability to move forward with the outsourcing of the ID cards.

After the Department of Health announced its intent to grant the $7.4 million contract to Veritec, losing bidder Automated Health Solutions – which bid about $9.3 million – immediately said it would protest the decision.

The protest threatened to delay for months the outsourcing of the ID cards – ordered by lawmakers in a sweeping bill passed in June. That bill was intended to carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.

Under Philip’s order, the outsourcing will begin while the administrative challenge moves forward. Along with serving as surgeon general, Philip is secretary of the Florida Department of Health, which is in charge of carrying out medical-marijuana laws.

“We have heard the concerns of patients, caregivers and the Legislature and have determined that expediting the OMMU (Office of Medical Marijuana Use) identification card program is necessary to ensure timely access for patients. The rate of growth of this program has proven that we cannot wait for an ITN (Invitation to Negotiate) protest without impacting patients currently suffering from qualifying medical conditions,” Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email.

In a memo Wednesday about the signing of the contract with Veritec, Philip said the Office of Medical Marijuana Use has printed more than 29,000 patient and caregiver cards. But the health department expects an exponential rise in the number of patients – to between 300,000 and 500,000 – over the next two years.

The number of new patients added daily has nearly tripled since March, from 90 to 264, according to Philip.

And because lawmakers ordered the outsourcing of the ID cards, Bax’s office lacks the staff to address the task, Philip said.

“The card application program is extremely resource-intensive, and further continued diversion of OMMU personnel to serve the needs of the card program will negatively impact OMMU’s core regulatory functions,” she wrote.

Nearly all of the 17 full-time employees and 18 temporary workers hired by Bax are devoted to dealing with the cards either full-time or part time, according to Philip.

She said the office won’t be able to process applications and print cards in a timely manner once the number of patients added to a state registry reaches 350 per day, which Philip said will occur within the next two months. The work overload will result in delays of up to three months before patients get their cards, she said.

“Moving forward with a vendor for the card program and call center will benefit patients, caregivers, and the department,” she wrote.

The outsourcing of the ID cards will allow Bax’s staff “to concentrate on their core functions,” such as regulating medical marijuana treatment centers, working with physicians and facilitating patient access, Philips wrote in the memo.

The ID cards are just one of a series of challenges in Florida’s medical marijuana arena.

The state is also dealing with several lawsuits. One challenge focuses on a law banning medical marijuana from being smoked. Another challenges a ban on “home grows.” A separate lawsuit is challenging portions of the June law that set aside a medical marijuana license for a black farmer who meets certain requirements. And a fourth is centered on a preference in the law for up to two applicants from the citrus industry.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Legal challenges bog down medical cannabis process

A litany of lawsuits continues to jam up the state’s medical marijuana licensure process, the state’s top marijuana official told House lawmakers Wednesday.

Christian Bax, executive director of the state Health Department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave the House Health Quality Subcommittee an overview of his work, including the latest tally of legal challenges.

“(Our) position is, we need to see whether a judge will stop this process prior to accepting applications,” Bax said. “We want to start accepting applications and move forward.”

To name just a couple, Tropiflora of Sarasota recently sued the state over its preference in granting medical marijuana licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories.

Tropiflora calls that an “unconstitutional special advantage” that “adversely impacts” its chance of getting one of 10 more available licenses to be a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

There’s also a constitutional challenge pending from attorney John Morgan over lawmakers’ ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Morgan was the main backer of the state constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana as medicine and approved by voters last year.

Morgan’s suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s intent. Lawmakers recently approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, for example, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however. Bax told the committee his office is still developing rules on edible marijuana products.

There also are administrative challenges, such as a bid protest over the contract for producing the marijuana patient ID cards.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and dermatologist, likened Health Department officials working on marijuana to the proverbial Dutch boy who plugs a dike with his finger: “They can only hold it for so long.”

At the same time, he said, department officials must “work hard to enforce the law that we worked hard to pass.”

Orange County approves medical marijuana dispensaries

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed anywhere in unincorporated Orange County that pharmacies might go, thanks to a unanimous vote Tuesday evening by the Orange County Commission.

After hearing scores of people testify in favor of allowing the dispensaries Tuesday and at a previous commission public hearing on Oct. 31, the board of commissioners decided that the 73 percent of Orange County voters who approved the statewide medical marijuana initiative last year can’t be wrong.

The vote came in part out of frustration as Mayor Teresa Jacobs and several of the six commissioners bemoaned the directive given them by the Florida Legislature last spring that they could either approve them without restrictions or ban them entirely. And they weren’t interested in banning them entirely, not after hearing from veterans suffering from PTSD, caregivers telling of loved ones needing something other than opioids, and assurances that the dispensaries look more like doctor’s offices than California pot shops.

Still, many of them said they must urge the Florida Legislature to give them more authority to limit where they might go. Currently, they can go in anywhere a pharmacy can be located, which includes all commercial districts, a few industrial districts, and a handful of planned developments. Jacobs suggested that the bans might wind up being ruled unconstitutional anyway, and said she wants the issue put on the county’s legislative to-do list for this Legislative Session.

With Tuesday’s approval, Orange County becomes the first in the immediate Central Florida area to allow the dispensaries. Lake County has banned them. Seminole and Osceola counties have temporary moratoriums and will take up the prospect of ban or allow later. And in Orange County, the cities of Winter Garden, Winter Park, Apopka, Windermere, Ocoee, and Oakland have banned dispensaries, while Edgewood, Maitland, Eatonville, and Belle Isle have moratoriums. Orlando has not, and it hosts the county’s first dispensary, located just north of downtown.

“There are very compelling reasons to do this,” said Commissioner Pete Clarke, who made the motion to allow them. “One is, it’s the law of the land, it’s the law of the state of Florida.”

He and the other commissioners had listened to several hours of testimony and almost all of it came from proponents. Much of the pro-effort had been organized by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, who spoke at the Oct. 31 hearing, but was in Tallahassee for the Tuesday’s hearing and so sent an envoy with additional testimony.

“This is a major victory for cannabis patients in Orange County,” Smith said in a written statement afterwards. “As cities and counties across Florida are moving to ban dispensaries in their area, it’s good to see that our local efforts to mobilize cannabis patients and advocates actually made a difference. The public spoke out, and Orange County officials listened.”

Perhaps the most compelling argument for allowing the dispensaries came from Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who said two years ago she watched her step-father go through fatal stage 4 colon cancer, and then her [now ex-] husband suffer a heart attack, on top of PTSD symptoms. Both of them would have benefitted from medical marijuana, she said, but instead her father-in-law went on opioids to control his end-of-life pain, while her husband went on a long list of drugs.

“I made up my mind on this two years ago,” Thompson said.

Even with the approval, there were concerns, mainly about the on/off choice the commissioners were forced to make. Commissioner Betsy VanderLey raised images of dispensaries popping up in Orlando’s tourist district, saying she had real concerns about “what that does to the family-friendly brand. There has to be some discussion about our ability to limit where it can be located.”

Clarke noted he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and knew plenty of people who used marijuana, and said it destroyed some lives. But he said the only people he heard from who were opposed were hiding behind the Internet.

Commissioner Victoria Siplin said that for her it came down to numbers: those who voted in favor of Amendment 2 last year. She checked the vote in the precincts in her district.

“About 78 percent of my voters voted for the medical marijuana amendment,” she said. “I had one district that voted 100 percent for it. What the Legislature handed to us, it has issues. But besides that, I have to look at the numbers.”

John Morgan’s Twitter account probes gubernatorial candidates on marijuana

Trial lawyer, outspoken medical marijuana advocate and potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Morgan assumed the role of a different profession on Wednesday: journalist.

In a rapid series of Wednesday morning tweets fired at each of the major gubernatorial candidate, Morgan sought public, official comment on the candidates’ stance on the legalization of marijuana.

The tweets began at 9 a.m., just an hour and a half before Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine‘s officially declared his bid for governor. They garnered a bit of engagement, allowing Morgan to draw attention to himself despite the Levine-driven coverage of the day.

But perhaps Morgan did not intend to take the spotlight away from the mayor — maybe he’s genuinely probing a gubernatorial field that now boasts four Democratic candidates and two major Republicans.

His genuine intention could’ve been to see if a candidate aligned with his beliefs on marijuana — which Morgan has very clearly established as a pet issue. If that were the case, perhaps he’d rather stand on the sideline during the campaign next year, instead pushing his pro-pot agenda through another candidate. It certainly would be easier than facing a field of four Democratic primary candidates, and later going against the winner of a Republican lineup that includes Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, with looming potential bids from House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Congressman Ron Desantis.

Either way, it shook things up in the Twitterverse of Florida politics, and the novice journalist got some big responses, too.

Latvala, of Clearwater, was first to respond. It was humorously concise.

Then came Levine’s answer, for which the dogged reporter Morgan for the first time felt the insulting, but not atypical sensation of a politician dodging a question.

The mayor carefully circumnavigated the question of marijuana legalization, instead announcing his support for medical marijuana and “building on #MiamiBeach” where pot was decriminalized.

As for the rest of the candidates, you could say Morgan has ‘reached out for comment but has not received a response at the time of this article’s publishing.’ In other words, he hasn’t yet received responses.

UPDATE: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum avoided ambiguity in answering Morgan’s question Thursday afternoon, earning a digital fistbump from his possible Democratic Primary rival.

The rest of the candidates – Putnam, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Orlando businessman Chris King – are still suffering from a bout of cottonmouth, so to speak.

Nursery challenges pot license ‘preference’ for citrus industry

A Sarasota nursery has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of part of a new law that includes a preference for the citrus industry in the state’s awarding of potentially lucrative medical-marijuana licenses.

The lawsuit, filed last week by TropiFlora, LLC, in Leon County circuit court, is similar to a case filed in September that challenges another provision in the law directing a license to be awarded to a member of a black farmers’ group.

In both cases, plaintiffs are seeking injunctions to block the Florida Department of Health from moving forward with awarding licenses while the lawsuits are pending.

The Legislature, during the June Special Session, passed the law to help carry out a November 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state. In part, the law aimed to resolve legal and political battles about awarding licenses to businesses that would grow and sell medical cannabis.

The law directed the Department of Health to award 10 licenses and included direction that for up to two licenses, “the department shall give preference to applicants that demonstrate in their applications that they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

TropiFlora, which was denied a medical-marijuana license in 2015 under an earlier law, contends that the preference for the citrus industry violates the Florida Constitution. In part, it argues that the preference is what is known as a “special law” that improperly “grants a privilege to private persons and/or private corporations that own facilities” involved in the citrus industry.

“There is no valid or rational relationship between private persons and/or private corporations that own facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and providing safe, efficacious, and quality medical marijuana products to the qualified patients in Florida,” said the 19-page lawsuit filed Friday.

The Department of Health has not issued licenses under the citrus preference and had not filed a response to the lawsuit as of Wednesday morning. The citrus preference drew questions during the Special Legislative Session. Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has played a key role on medical-marijuana legislation, said during the session the preference was included to help a declining citrus industry, which has been devastated by citrus greening.

“Some of those old-line facilities and businesses are deteriorating much like the city of Detroit,” Bradley said at the time. “This would allow them to have an opportunity to redesign or repurpose their facilities.”

With Florida expected to have one of the largest medical-marijuana markets in the country, battles over the licenses have been fierce. The battles started after lawmakers in 2014 approved a limited law that allowed non-euphoric cannabis for patients with certain conditions, such as children with severe epilepsy.

The department, which has faced heavy litigation over the application and selection process, has approved 13 licenses. One of those came last week when the department reached a settlement with the Homestead grower Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms.

In addition to the citrus-related case, TropiFlorida has other litigation pending against the department in Leon County circuit court and the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The new lawsuit raises similar legal arguments as the case involving a license for black farmers. In that case, Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, alleges that the June law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license.

The law specified that one license go to a black farmer who had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers. The law also said that the black farmer who receives a license would have to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter.

Smith contends he meets the qualification of being part of the litigation about discrimination against black farmers but has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license.

The Department of Health on Oct. 18 filed a response objecting to a possible injunction in the case. It said such an injunction would prevent the department from awarding any licenses.

“As there are currently 44,973 qualified patients in the Office of Medical Marijuana Use registry, and the current growth rate is 254 patients per day, restricting the supply of medical marijuana is not simply maintaining the status quo and clearly not in the best interest of the public,” the Oct. 18 response said.

Senators angry at delays in medical marijuana licenses

Frustrated senators grilled Florida’s pot czar Tuesday, demanding explanations for why his office missed a legislatively mandated deadline to issue new medical-marijuana licenses and why ailing patients are stuck waiting for state-issued ID cards.

Christian Bax, executive director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use, blamed one of the delays on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of part of a new law that required health officials to issue 10 new marijuana licenses by Oct. 3.

But Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, rejected Bax’s explanation.

“I’m not buying that just because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these additional licenses,” Young, a lawyer, scolded Bax.

The new law, passed during a special session in June, was intended to carry out a constitutional amendment, approved by voters in November, that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.

The lawsuit cited by Bax deals with a portion of the law that reopened the application process and ordered the Department of Health to grant five licenses by Oct. 3, after it approved five other new licenses in August. One of the licenses in the second batch must go to a grower who had been part of settled lawsuits, known as the “Pigford” cases, about discrimination against black farmers by the federal government.

But weeks after the deadline has passed, Bax has yet to hire a vendor to score what could be hundreds of applications for the highly coveted licenses in potentially one of the nation’s most robust marijuana markets.

Bax has maintained that the lawsuit filed by Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, has temporarily put the application process on hold.

Smith’s challenge alleges that the new law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

Smith is asking a Tallahassee judge to stop the Department of Health from moving forward with the application process, something Bax said has prevented him from obeying the Legislature’s directive.

“The prospect of moving forward of accepting licenses with the injunctive hearing looming creates both a logistical and legal problem,” Bax, a lawyer, told the committee Tuesday morning.

But Young wasn’t satisfied with Bax’s justification.

“I hear what you’re saying, but doesn’t it seem a bit complacent for you to simply throw your hands up and say, `Oh, we cannot issue. We’ve been sued. Oh no.’ You all get sued all the time,” an exasperated Young said. “You have a duty under our state laws to issue these licenses, regardless of whether some plaintiff files a lawsuit.”

Bax insisted he is hamstrung by the pending court decision regarding the temporary injunction.

“I don’t think there is anyone in this room who would like to get these licenses out and growing more than I do. We want to move this process as quickly as possible forward,” he said.

But, he added, “If this process gets struck down, we would have to start from the beginning.”

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who is also a lawyer, piled on, putting Department of Health General Counsel Nicole Gehry on the hot seat.

“What valid reason could you have for ignoring a statutory directive? Just saying that you’re afraid of an injunction or litigation has been filed. … I mean, almost every time we pass a law, somebody files a lawsuit, and we still continue to pursue it,” Passidomo said, asking Gehry “what is the down side” of issuing the licenses.

“Once we get an idea of the scope of how the judge views the case, I think the department would be in a better position to evaluate how best to move forward,” Gehry said. “It’s difficult to articulate at the moment because we don’t know what the judge is going to do with the temporary restraining order.”

The new licenses aren’t the only source of frustration for lawmakers.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, is among numerous legislators whose constituents have sought help getting state-issued identification cards. Patients must have the cards to purchase marijuana, once their doctors have ordered treatment.

“I’ve had constituents’ families call because they’ve died waiting to get their card and could not get their medication,” Book said.

Bax said it currently takes his office 30 days to issue the ID cards, if applications are complete.

But Book disputed that.

“I went on a fact-finding mission … and I tried the process as an experiment. It took three months to get a patient identification card. That is not unique. That is something that I have heard time and time and time again,” she said.

Bax said he is finalizing negotiations with a vendor who will take over the ID-card system; the outsourcing was another requirement included in the new law. The deal should be finalized in a few days, Bax promised.

Book asked how the contractor would handle the backlog — which Bax said is up to 6,000 patients at any given time — of people waiting for ID cards.

“Flushing that backlog out … is a priority for us,” he assured the panel. “That will be the first thing that’s addressed.”

Bax’s answers did little to quell committee members’ concerns.

“I feel like I know less now and am more confused after your presentation,” Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat, said.

But it’s unclear what disgruntled lawmakers can do to force the health department to act.

“We’re going to have to continue to look into that, but I will tell you that many of the committee members commented during the meeting that they’ve never seen anything like this. And I will tell you that I have never seen anything like this in the eight years that I’ve served in the Legislature. A complete disregard for a legislative mandate,” Young told The News Service of Florida after the meeting.

Ailing patients, who have “already waited too long” for medical marijuana to be legalized, “deserve their government to act appropriately” to make sure they get the treatment they need, Young said.

State tries to remove judge in medical marijuana dispute

Accusing him of bias, Florida health officials are asking that Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham be removed from a case involving a medical marijuana license.

The highly unusual request came two days before a hearing was supposed to begin in a challenge filed last month against the state Department of Health by Homestead-based Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms.

In an affidavit filed Tuesday, state Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax accused Van Laningham of having “prejudged the issues in this matter” and attempting to help St. Germain.

“Based on all of the facts set forth above, I have firmly concluded that the department cannot receive fair consideration of the issues and will not receive a fair final hearing in this matter if ALJ Van Laningham remains assigned as the administrative judge,” Bax said.

The tug-of-war between the judge and health officials escalated, with the judge chiding the state, lawyers for Bax refusing to back down and the nursery accusing the department of judge-shopping.

Part of Bax’s complaints about Van Laningham centered on a separate marijuana-related challenge in which the judge ruled against the health department. In that case, Van Laningham scalded agency officials for failing to follow their own rules when scoring applications for the highly coveted marijuana licenses.

The department’s “arbitrary scoring method fatally undermines its preliminary rankings, which would not survive even the most deferential standards of review,” Van Laningham wrote in a 2016 recommended order in the case involving the nurseries Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm.

Van Laningham ultimately decided that the agency should grant licenses to the two nurseries, but Bax’s office rejected his findings. Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm ultimately got licenses because of a change passed by the Legislature.

In the affidavit cited in the motion to disqualify Van Laningham, Bax said the judge had no business evaluating what method was used to score applications because that issue wasn’t part of the challenges.

Bax accused Van Laningham of making “gratuitous, derogatory comments about the department insinuating that the proposed recommended order filed by the department was designed to be deceptive and hide the department’s true positions from him, as the presiding officer.”

Setting off a flurry of filings, Bax’s lawyers Tuesday asked the director of the Division of Administrative Hearings, Robert Cohen, to disqualify Van Laningham and reassign the case to another judge.

The same day, Van Laningham canceled the hearing, which was scheduled to start Thursday, saying he had to decide on the agency’s request. He noted the ruling “requires prompt disposition” but that he had up to 30 days to rule.

Lawyers for the health agency immediately filed an angry objection to Van Laningham’s cancellation of the hearing and again demanded that the director of the division reassign the case. Florida law requires that a hearing be held by Monday, lawyers for the state argued.

But in a stinging rebuke, Van Laningham wrote that an administrative procedures law “provides no such vehicle” for the chief judge to consider the agency’s objection and that Van Laningham himself would decide whether he should be disqualified.

“To summarize, and repeat for emphasis, each case pending before DOAH has one, and only one, presiding judge at a time,” he wrote in a notice to the parties. “The undersigned is the presiding judge in this matter, notwithstanding the motion to disqualify, and will remain the presiding judge in this matter unless a successor judge is assigned in the ordinary course of the proceeding pursuant to regular, legally authorized procedures, which do not include the filing of appeals (by any name or in any form) with the chief judge (or any other judge) of DOAH who is not the presiding judge.”

The health agency is also embroiled in a jurisdictional dispute with Van Laningham regarding the challenge. Lawyers for the state agency maintain the case should be handled internally, rather than through the administrative hearing process.

The health department has tried four times to get Van Laningham to dismiss the case. He rejected each effort.

Lawyers for St. Germain accused health officials of trying to “judge-shop,” arguing that Van Laningham’s prior rulings against the agency can’t be a reason to disqualify the judge.

Health officials recently adopted a rule that requires applications for medical-marijuana licenses to be scored “quantitatively, rather than ranking them,” St. Germain’s lawyer, D. Kent Safriet, argued.

“This begs the question that if the ALJ’s analysis was so off the mark, why did the department follow the analysis in adopting the new rule? It appears the department simply cannot admit it made a mistake. Instead, the department takes aim at the ALJ,” Safriet wrote in a motion filed Wednesday.

St. Germain filed the challenge last month after Bax’s office denied the grower a license in August, following the passage of a new law.

Under the law, passed during a June special session, health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January or who scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.

St. Germain came in second in the Southeast region, scoring 1.1875 points below Costa Farms, which received a license. Health officials said St. Germain is ineligible for a license because the difference between the scores was greater than one point.

Also Tuesday, St. Germain filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court, alleging that Bax’s office is stalling on providing public records related to the case.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Regulators shoot down medical marijuana payment proposal

State regulators have rejected a California bank’s proposal to operate in Florida as a financial middleman for medical marijuana-related transactions.

The Office of Financial Regulation turned down a request from PayQwick for a declaratory statement so it could operate here.

Christian Bax, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave a presentation Wednesday to the House Health Quality Subcommittee on the state’s regulation of medicinal cannabis.

Though he did not mention the PayQwick case, decided in late August, Bax did say there has been “reticence” on the part of the banking industry to get involved with marijuana sales.

Florida has more or less legalized medical marijuana, through statute and constitutional amendment, but selling marijuana still is a federal crime. And banking, by its nature as “interstate commerce,” falls under federal law.

Under President Barack Obama, however, federal prosecutors did not criminally pursue those, such as “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use the drug “in compliance with an existing state law.”

Still, “life would be a lot easier for us and for patients if there were online payments,” Bax told the panel.

PayQwick’s “description of its contemplated business model is expansive,” OFR’s order says.

“For example, (it) describes its (potential) clients as not only registered medical marijuana patients, but also members of the public purchasing marijuana from a licensed retailer/dispensary.”

Florida’s current system is “vertically-integrated,” meaning businesses grow, process and sell their own marijuana, with each licensed as a medical marijuana treatment center, or MMTC.

But PayQwick based its request “on the erroneous assumption that the … distribution of marijuana is legal,” the order says. Because of that, “a declaratory statement is not available.”

PayQwick’s system, an “electronic payment hub,” was also aimed at making it easier for “ancillary” concerns, such as security alarm companies, to do “legal business” with the MMTCs.

Users would download an app to transfer money from a “settlement account” to a “sub-account,” then to a “bank or credit union.”

PayQwick would have made money “by charging a percentage-based service fee for each re-allocation of funds from one client to another,” the OFR order says.

State seeks to scuttle marijuana smoking case

Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office is asking a judge to toss out a challenge to a new law that bars patients from smoking medical marijuana.

A 39-page motion filed last week in Leon County circuit court argues that a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana did not require smoking to be allowed – and that lawmakers had good reasons to approve a smoking ban.

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the medical-marijuana legalization drive, filed a lawsuit in July contending that lawmakers violated the constitutional amendment by barring smoking.

The disputed law was passed during a June special session, as the Legislature took steps to carry out the constitutional amendment.

The law allows medical marijuana to be used in other ways, including by allowing patients to vaporize, or “vape,” marijuana products. The motion to dismiss the lawsuit said lawmakers pointed to health reasons for approving the smoking ban.

“The Legislature considered several significant health-related factors and reasonably determined that the harms caused by smoking were ample reason to exclude smoking from the definition of `medical use,’” the motion said.

It also contended that the constitutional amendment did not specify that smoking would be allowed.

“Had the framers or the voters intended to legalize smoking by adopting the amendment, they could have done so,” attorneys in Bondi’s office wrote. “There was ample opportunity for smoking to be specifically provided for or required in the amendment. But however hard plaintiffs may look for it, a smoking requirement is not in the amendment.”

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers has not scheduled a hearing in the case, according to an online docket.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Grower asks state for edible cannabis rules

Surterra Wellness, the Atlanta-based company with medical cannabis dispensaries in Tampa and Tallahassee, on Monday asked the state to let it begin offering edible products in Florida.

Voters last year overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis, and lawmakers passed legislation in June to implement the amendment.

That bill allows patients to use cannabis pills, oils, edibles and “vape” pens with a doctor’s approval, but it bans smoking.

Florida law requires the state’s Department of Health to determine “any shapes, forms” edible products can take and what other ingredients they can contain. No medical marijuana provider can offer edibles after the rule goes out.

Surterra officials say this means no Florida patient will have access to legal edible marijuana till the Department makes these rules, and they have yet to initiate that on their own. Thus, the petition to get that process moving.

The Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

“Many patients have been seeking edible products because it is the best format for them to find relief,” said Wesley Reynolds, president of Surterra Florida.

“Surterra Wellness has and will continue to fight for access to medical cannabis, and this is just a continuation of that cause,” he added. “The more available options for people, the more likely they will be able to use a cannabis product instead of highly addictive and easily abused opiates.”

“The department is working diligently to implement the many requirements of Article X Section 29 of the Florida Constitution and section 381.986 Florida Statutes,” says  Mara Gambineri, Communications Director with the Florida Dept. of Health. “Section 381.986 Florida Statutes directs the department to create rules related to edible marijuana products, and we fully intend on following the law. We remain committed to moving this process forward and will do so in an expedient and thoughtful manner.”

Surterra is one of seven companies licensed in Florida to sell a variety of marijuana products. The number is expected to rise to 17 later this month.

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